1. What is Service of Process?
  2. What documents do I need to serve?
  3. How do I make service of process?
  4. Do I have to use a sheriff for service of process?
  5. What happens after service of process is made by the sheriff or constable?
  6. How long do I have to make service of process?
  7. What if I do not know where the defendant lives?
  8. What if the defendant does not live in Massachusetts? 

1. What is Service of Process?

Once you commence a lawsuit, you must arrange to have certain documents delivered to each and every defendant you have sued.  Massachusetts has rules regarding what documents need to be delivered (or “served”), who is able to deliver these documents, and the amount of time you have to arrange delivery. The proper delivery of these documents is known as “service of process.” The rules regarding service of process are fully detailed in Rule 4 of the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure .  However, you should check for any special service requirements imposed by the statute governing your case.

Please note that in proceedings related to land registration or confirmation under G.L. c. 185 , tax foreclosure under G.L. c. 60 , and servicemembers cases, service procedures are different, and a summons is not issued upon the filing of the complaint.

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2. What documents do I need to serve?

A: In those cases where service of process will be your responsibility, you will purchase a “summons” when you file your complaint in Recorder’s office of the Land Court. A summons is an official order from the court. You must serve a copy of your complaint and copy of the summons on each person you have sued.  The Recorder’s office is located on the 5th floor of the land Court at 3 Pemberton Square, Boston.

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3. How do I make service of process?

If your defendant is a person, you will usually need to hire a county sheriff to make service. You can find a partial list of county sheriffs at page. You will need to pay the sheriff for the service. When a sheriff (or deputy sheriff) serves the defendant, he or she gives the defendant the required copy of the summons and complaint. Then, the sheriff or deputy sheriff fills out the second page of the summons, called the “Return of Service.”  A Return of Service is proof that the defendant was served.

Please note that special rules may apply for service on corporations or government agencies.  You should refer to Rule 4 of the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure .

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4. Do I have to use a sheriff for service of process?

In those cases where service by a sheriff is required, you may file a motion asking the court to appoint a constable to make service of process instead of the sheriff. A Land Court judge will determine whether or not to allow your request.

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5. What happens after service of process is made by the sheriff or constable?

The sheriff or constable will give you back the completed Return of Service, which you must file with the court.

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6. How long do I have to make service of process?

In most cases, you must complete service of process within ninety (90) days from the date you filed your complaint with the court.  Again, you should always check to see if the statute governing your case requires a different time limit.

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7. What if I do not know where the defendant lives?

If the sheriff or constable is unable to accomplish service because the defendant cannot be located, you may request service by publication.  A Land Court judge will determine whether to allow your request. Normally, approval will require the filing of a motion with the court, and the motion must be supported by a written statement setting forth the efforts you have made to locate the defendant.  Your motion for publication will be allowed only if the judge determines you have exhausted all reasonable efforts to locate and serve the defendant.

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8. What if the defendant does not live in Massachusetts?

There are several methods for serving process on an out-of-state defendant that are in addition to what is authorized for service of process on a Massachusetts defendant.  For example, you may accomplish service by following the rules and laws of the state where the defendant resides.  Or, in most cases, you may accomplish service by “any form of mail addressed to the person to be served and requiring a signed receipt.”  See Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4 .